Hurrah for Stromness

  You’re listening to “Farewell to Stromness” by Peter Maxwell Davies.  Written for piano, I came across this version on a classical guitar CD I picked up for inspiration.  I’ve ordered the sheet music so that I can put it under my pillow for the homeopathy method of music instruction.

   Stromness, counting some 1500 residents, is the second largest town on what’s called ‘Mainland’ of the Orkney archipelago off the north coast of Scotland.  In the seventies significant uranium deposits were discovered nearby and Margaret Thatcher was in favor of their development.  Locals were not. 

  From the photos above we can see that mining of the stuff would have had devastating impact.  Davies wrote the music as part of his ‘Yellowcake Review’ in protest*.  It’s an achingly emotional recapitulation of a cerebral journey over and around the island. 

  With the first few notes, one is enjoined, soon nearly overwhelmed at the realization of what could come to pass, and then hesitates briefly to gather strength.  How could such a thing be contemplated?  Then onward with determination to experience it all in case the philistines hold sway. 

  The Orcadians’ campaign was successful and the uranium lies undisturbed.  Hurrah! Now, each time I listen to the short piece, I’m pervaded with the fragile good fortune of our place on our planet. I’d be fascinated to hear if any MPs or Thatcher heard this music during consideration of the issue.  Wonder if a savage beast was thereby soothed.  Wouldn’t have been the first time that art inflected political discourse.

  All of that having had transpired, it is, uhm, interesting to note that some years later a string arrangement of “Farewell to Stromness” was performed at the blessing of the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla.  With all of the myriad back stories behind that event, I think I’d have chosen differently.  Music is a language, and maybe it’s me, but somehow something seems to have been lost in that translation. 

*We became familiar with the term ‘yellowcake’ during the Valerie Plame affair.  It is an ironic trivialization of both the substance as well as the proposed excavation in the Orkney Islands.

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